Old soldiers relive call-up of 50 years ago


When Lowry Jefferson Brooks joined the Maryland National Guard, the weekly salary he received for a night of training would pay his way to 10 movies at the local theater in Cambridge.

Back then, of course, a seat at the picture show was only a dime.

A little extra spending money was only one of the reasons the 21-year-old Mr. Brooks decided to enlist in the guard.

"One year's training in the military,serve our country and not get drafted," Mr. Brooks recalled yesterday during a luncheon commemorating the 50th anniversary of the activation of the 29th Infantry Division, whose soldiers were among the first to storm a Normandy beach on D-Day in 1944 in World War II. "I wasn't much of a fighter; I was a lover."

But by Dec. 7, 1941 -- the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor -- Lowry Brooks knew his stint in the Army was far from over. "I saw the whole continent of Europe . . . including Omaha Beach," said the 70-year-old Dundalk resident and retired state employee.

It would be nearly five years before Mr. Brooks was discharged. By then, Sgt. "Beano" Brooks had two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts and a host of other honors pinned to his chest, a foot soldier's map of Europe etched in his memory and a "Dear John" letter in his pocket.

"She sued me for desertion," said Mr. Brooks, of the woman he married on the Fourth of July in 1942. "And that's a 'Dear John' letter, baby."

Yesterday was a day for reminiscing, and the members of the 29th Division Association at their reunion at the Pikesville Military Reservation held to the preamble of their organization: "To perpetuate the friendship we cherish, to keep alive the spirit that never knew defeat, to glorify our dead and further keep before ourCountry the record of the 29th Division in the World Wars 1 and 2."

By his own admission, Mr. Brooks was "a beautiful specimen of humanity" on the day his unit was called to active duty 50 years ago -- a man with a 33-inch waist "ready to go." His waist is considerably larger now.

He left his parents' home with only a toothbrush, shoe polish and a comb. "That's all you needed," said Mr. Brooks. "The Army gave you everything else. They issued you a razor, underwear, handkerchiefs, mess gear."

But the Army was a little short on weapons, and Mr. Brooks said his outfit trained with broom handles and two-by-fours instead of guns while stationed at Fort Meade. He left for Europe on Oct. 4, 1942.

"I would never have seen Europe if it hadn't been for this," Mr. Brooks said. "War, that's one of the greatest experiences you can go through. You never know from one second to another if you're going to be alive. It's a thrill."

Dr. John P. Urlock Jr. joined the National Guard six months before the 29th Infantry was called to active duty. An intern at South Baltimore General Hospital, Dr. Urlock was told that by joining the guard "you'll never go overseas, and you'll get plenty of surgery."

Neither held true.

During part of his Army tour of duty, Dr. Urlock said he was sent toOxford, England, where he learned about penicillin and did research on the cases of 2,500 soldiers who contracted gonorrhea while sampling London's night life. He later took care of American soldiers, some of them deserters, who were imprisoned at Litchfield, England.

One of Dr. Urlock's fondest memories was of a soldier he examined at Baltimore's 5th Regiment Armory on Feb. 3, 1941. The man had a perforated ear drum and was refused entry into the Army that day, said Dr. Urlock, 76, of Southwest Baltimore.

The soldier later enlisted, was sent overseas and found himself on the front lines, Dr. Urlock said. "He went to the lieutenant and said, 'I don't belong here. I have a perforated eardrum,' " Dr. Urlock said, smiling. "The lieutenant pulled out a gun and told him to get back on the front line or he was going to shoot him."

During his stint in the Army, Bernard Nowakowski said he had "one of the best jobs" a soldier could have. "I was the regimental mail sergeant," said the 70-year-old, who lives in Highlandtown. "A lot of my buddies looked for me every day. Mail is a big thing. Something they look forward to, more than a meal."

Since the outbreak of the Persian Gulf war, Mr. Nowakowski said, he has been encouraging people to write letters to the soldiers. "A letter to a man overseas, it brings home to them. You don't appreciate your home until you're away from it," he said.

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